Sometimes in a movie, an actor is so perfect for a role you can't help but assume that the role was created just for him or her. One such performance is Nick Nolte's portrayal of Stephen Katz in the new film, A Walk in the Woods (out Sept. 2). In the movie, which is based on author Bill Bryson's memoir of the same name, Katz is the long-lost friend of Bryson who joins the travel writer (played by Robert Redford) for a spontaneous — and dangerous — trek along the Appalachian Trail. The character of Katz is a former alcoholic who's taken seriously by no one at first, but soon it's discovered that his somewhat crazy manchild exterior hides a deep intelligence underneath. Sound like any Oscar-nominated star you might know?
"When I asked Bryson about he and Katz, I said, 'Can you tell me about Katz?' And he said, 'He was really smart, he was very daring, but he had an addictive personality," says Redford. "So I thought, 'Nick will be great at that.'"
Nolte, who's had his own highly-publicized problems with drugs and alcohol in the past, was more than up for the role. "I can do that!" Nolte says of playing a person with an addictive personality. "That's not too hard!"
The actor also related to Katz's struggle of fitting into society's norms. Said Nolte, "Katz never had a job, he didn't have a career, he got in the '60s and got into the revolution and stayed revolutionary. Kind of a bum, I guess." As for his own unorthodox past? "They couldn't get me into school [as a child]," the actor said. "I just refused. It was a problem."
The similarities between actor and character don't end there, though; the two even grew up in the same area. "[Katz] didn't leave Iowa," Nolte says. "I was raised in Iowa, named in Iowa, and ten minutes in any direction and I was in the country."
Nolte's life experiences not only informed his character, but aided in his and Redford's convincing portrayal of old friends who've drifted apart after coming from a similar place.
"I remember World War II, Bob [Redford] remembers World War II. I've been really thinking of this now that I'm in my solid 70s; it had an extreme effect on a lot of people," Nolte says. "There was kind of an unwritten script going on between Bob and I, and I think it's this World War II experience."
Yet his age didn't step Nolte from performing "most of" the stunts in the physically grueling film, he says. One glaring exception? "The fall," he says, which refers to a tumble off a cliff Katz and Bryson endure in the movie. It's probably for the best, then, that Nolte and Katz don't share every experience.
Images: Broad Green Pictures